What Is Love? Developing A Definition

Updated May 1, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

Coming up with a cohesive definition of love is a task that people have labored over for centuries. Because the love we feel for various people in our lives depends on context—how long we’ve known them, our specific relationship with them, etc.—it can be hard to conceptualize what love is exactly. Love can involve a mix of emotions, behaviors, and beliefs; and it is often associated with strong feelings of affection and respect. Some say that love is something that you only fully understand when you experience it yourself. While it is a hard concept to define, many have come up with different descriptions that help us better understand its different expressions. Below, we’re going to outline several different definitions of love and how they may apply to the relationships in your life. 

Love, according to the dictionary

The difficulty in creating an all-encompassing characterization of love is illustrated by the several different definitions that you come across in a dictionary. For example, the  of love according to Merriam-Webster range from “a strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties” to “an assurance of affection”. 

The dictionary definitions will also change depending on the specific source you’re referencing. The Cambridge Dictionary, for instance, includes a definition that is romantic, platonic, and familial : “to like another adult very much and be romantically and sexually attracted to them, or to have strong feelings of liking a friend or person in your family”.

Love can serve as the foundation of a healthy relationship

Love, according to the triangular theory

Robert Sternberg’s  is a simple way of conceptualizing romantic love. According to this theory, true love is a combination of three components: intimacy, passion, and commitment. 


Intimacy can be described as the comforting connection you feel with someone. Intimacy often exists when we bond with someone on a deep level. It can happen when you and your partner spend meaningful time together, empathize with one another, and share your lives.  


Passion is characterized by a sexual attraction to someone. Passion may fluctuate over time, but it can still be an important aspect of a relationship. You may feel passion when you and your partner become physical, kiss, or even just look at each other. 


Commitment indicates that one’s feelings have advanced to the point that they can see a future with their romantic interest. This aspect of love may develop when, for example, you ask your partner to move in with you. 

The three components of the triangular theory of love are interrelated; so, strengthening one area can help improve another. For example, you might notice how closely connected intimacy and commitment are when spending time alone with your partner makes you want to move in with them. 

Within this theory, there are eight different relationship types that may develop, based on which components exist in a partnership. For instance, you may experience romantic love—a love in which passion and intimacy are present, but commitment is not. Or you and your partner could feel companionate love—a love in which commitment and intimacy are present, but passion is not.

If a relationship covers all three points of the triangle, according to Sternberg’s theory, true love is present. Often, to develop these three components of love, you need to work past old habits, be vulnerable, and let someone see all of the different aspects of your personality and life. 

Love, according to the ancient Greeks

In ancient Greece, philosophers and other thinkers developed several different words for love, covering a range of relationships and situations. These forms of love help us understand how we express love for the people in our lives differently.  


Eros is a physical, sexual form of love. In Greece, Eros was the god of sexual desire. The Greeks believed this love could be dangerous, as it could cause people to behave in risky ways. Eros often happens during the beginning of a relationship, before deeper feelings take over. Eros doesn’t always indicate the presence of a partnership, though, and it doesn’t always lead to a more serious kind of love.


Philia is a platonic love—a love that you often see between friends. Philia was cherished in the world of ancient Greece as it was considered a pure form of love. Philia allows you to form a strong bond with friends, in which mutual affection and support are present. 


Ludus is a light and flirtatious expression of love. It often happens early in a relationship, but it does not necessarily have to occur between partners. Often characteristic of the feelings between young people, ludus is often referred to as playful love.


Pragma is a committed love that typically develops over a long period of time. Couples who experience pragma, which means practical, have formed a mutually beneficial relationship. This love embodies commitment, structure, and a common vision for the future. 


Agape love is characterized by selflessness and giving. It is often referred to as unconditional love, where you give without expecting to receive. It is also frequently attributed to people who are religious—the Greeks considered this type of love to be the love of the gods. 


This is the love of yourself. However, there are two kinds of love that philautia can indicate. First, there's a narcissistic form of self-love. Then, there’s the type of self-love marked by confidence, self-acceptance, and knowledge of your worth. With the latter type of love, you make efforts to practice self-compassion and care for yourself. Self-love can be an important part of being in a romantic relationship.


This is familial love. Storge can describe the love between a parent and child, siblings, or other family members. 

Storge can also apply to a close friend, particularly if they’re someone who you’ve grown up with.

How do I know if it’s love?

When it comes to romantic relationships specifically, falling in love is an experience many people seek out. With all of the different definitions of love, though, it can be hard to know whether you indeed love someone. Although the presence of love in your life will depend on your exact situation and feelings, there are several signs that indicate you’re in love. 

One common indicator of romantic love is empathy. When your partner feels discomfort, anger, or sadness, do you feel those emotions, too? Being able to understand and even experience your partner’s emotions is a sign that you have a loving relationship. 

You can also ask yourself whether you feel safe with your partner. While this can refer to physical safety, it may also describe a comfort and lack of distress when you’re around them. In some relationships, one partner feels as though they’re not able to say or do certain things, which can make it hard for a healthy partnership to form. 

If your partner prioritizes you in their life, commits to you, and works with you, that can signal the existence of love. This type of love is indicated in Sternberg’s triangular theory and the ancient Greeks’ pragma. Does your partner frequently talk about the future or want to share their life with you? This is a strong sign of love. 

In many cases, though, you’ll simply know that you’re in love. You may have an intuitive feeling that you’re with the right person or experience strong but ineffable emotions around them. In fact, the love you feel for your partner may be so unique that it doesn’t fit within someone else’s definition. 

If you’d like help parsing your feelings for your partner, talking to a therapist can help. A therapist can help you learn more about how you each prefer to express love while also giving you the tools to develop a strong, healthy relationship. 

Love can serve as the foundation of a healthy relationship

Fostering love with online therapy

Research shows that online therapy can help couples develop and nurture a loving relationship. In a study titled “More Than One Way to Say ‘I Love You’”, researchers found that online therapy improved participants’ ability to better understand one another and adopt more flexible points of view. Participants in the study reported experiencing enhanced relationship satisfaction and individual psychological improvement at a one-month follow-up. 

Online therapy can give you and your partner the tools and support to foster love in your relationship, regardless of how you define it. Utilizing an online therapy platform like Regain, you and your partner can meet with a therapist remotely—through video call, voice call, or in-app messaging—which can be helpful if you’re not comfortable discussing topics like love in person. Your therapist can also connect you with useful resources, such as at-home exercises that can help you continue to develop a loving bond on your own time. Online therapy can help you and your partner address challenges in your relationship and develop a strong foundation of love. Continue reading for reviews of Regain therapists from those who have sought help in the past. 

Therapist reviews

“Sarah has been comforting to me through a very difficult transition. She has helped me to regain confidence and listen to my intuition. She is a great listener and has encouraged me to rediscover and use my voice.”

“With Cassandra’s help, we’ve been able to bring our relationship to a new, healthier, and much happier level, working through painful situations, growing as individuals and as a couple, and with tools to stay on this path. She’s very responsive, and it has been great to have her facilitate our messaging through the app all week. I highly recommend Cassandra. She’s skilled, supportive, and down-to-earth. We feel totally comfortable with her.”


Love can come in many forms and mean different things to different people. In relationships, love can be a binding phenomenon, helping partners deepen their connection and grow together. If you’d like help fostering love in your relationship, consider reaching out to a licensed therapist online. You and your partner deserve the strong bond that can come from a loving relationship. 

For Additional Help & Support With Your ConcernsThis website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started
This website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.